Ampush was one of the first growth agencys to figure out how to run successful ads on Facebook. It took off 6 months after it was founded and the business worked with several Fortune 1000 companies as well as Dollar Shave Club and Hubble. According to Business Insider by 2013 it had handled $70 million worth of online advertising buys on behalf of their clients. Even Facebook caught wind of their success.
That same year Facebook named Ampush a Strategic Preferred Marketing Developer. Only 12 companies were selected.
Jesse: I was born and raised in St. Louis. My dad was an immigrant who came over from India when he was 17 for college, and afterwards became a small business entrepreneur. I grew up around business entrepreneurship from a pretty young age. I was the kid selling popcorn tins door to door, snow shoveling, lawn care business, you name it. I was just trying to figure out how to make it happen.
In high school I started a DJing company. At that time there was no Spotify, so anyone who wanted a wedding or a graduation done with Indian Punjabi music would hire us. We did ~$20,000 a year in sales with it.
Jesse: I met my co-founders Nick and Chris at Wharton. During our Freshman year we bought the domain name, ampush.com because it's the first two letters of our last name - Amos, Pujji, Shah - and we told ourselves that “one day we'll start a business with this."
While at school we were quite entrepreneurial. We provided t-shirts for every student group on campus, almost like an outsourced screen printing business. In its biggest year it did a couple hundred thousand dollars in sales. During the summers, we'd intern in finance. After I graduated, I spent a couple years in consulting and a couple years on the investment side. But in 2010 it was the middle of the financial crisis and we figured it was a good chance to go try something.
Jesse: Someone described digital ads to us once as the "spinal cord of the internet". If you're a publisher, you make all your money from it, if you're Facebook, Google, you make all your money from it, and if you're Netflix, you use it to grow your business.
So we started poking around in that world. We were 25. We knew no one. But if you can get clients a lead or get them a customer for less than it costs you, you can make money. At that time, the biggest vertical in performance marketing was online education businesses - like University of Phoenix and Kaplan - that were looking for leads. So we started trying to do work for them on Google search, and it was a disaster.
Jesse: We were self-funding everything. We had our own money, we had our credit cards. We launched our first campaign and spent $10,000, but our conversion rate was 0.1% and we needed it to be around 3% to be profitable.
What we did was we saw all the competitive websites, and thought, "Oh, these websites look so terrible. We should make our client’s really slick and really easy to navigate."
It didn't work. The conversion rate was just a disaster. We were pretty scared. We'd never built anything, so we ultimately just took inspiration from a competitor's landing page. They seemed to be buying a certain keyword and sending traffic to it. So we were curious what would happen if we did the exact same thing. All of a sudden, our luck changed. At that point we realized these poorly-designed websites are actually a feature, not a bug.
Jesse: We were in the right place at the right time making ~5 or 10% margins on Google. It was July of 2010, right around the time Facebook launched their self-serve ad platform. So we tried Facebook. Next thing you know we were doing 80% margins on Facebook traffic. That's when we decided to double down on the platform.
One of our most successful ads was targeting substitute teachers. It was an ad that said, "Sick of being a sub?" and had a mean cartoon picture of a teacher that said, “go back and get your master's degree in teaching and get a real job."
Jesse: Within 15 months of starting we generated $400,000 a month in profit. Facebook called us and said, "Who the hell are you guys? You're one of our top 100 global advertisers. Come meet us." They were looking for third-party companies to build around their API and be an ecosystem partner. We were one of the first companies invited into that program.
From there, we continued to run the performance marketing business, but then also had this active API. We tried to sell software, but it didn’t work out. We had been buying ads and branded the software as what you’d need to be successful run ad campaigns. We met a lot of companies, but they didn't want it.
They wanted services instead. So as a bootstrap company, we started hiring young people out of school and training them on how to do Facebook ad optimization.
Jesse: If you looked at our first clients in 2011, half the names you wouldn't recognize. The other half were brands like Uber, Dollar Shave Club, Blue Apron, Peloton. Those guys were all Series A at that time, but they ended up doing quite well. Our growth just exploded afterwards because we were working with them, helping them grow their business, which was growing our business.
Jesse: For Ampush, LinkedIn was the number one source. I think it's one of the best tools out there for business development. Knowing who your friends are now is really valuable.